21 August 2005

Are We At A Tipping Point...?

I certainly hope we are!


Littwin: Sheehan's Vigil In Crawford Strikes Chord
August 18, 2005

The phrase of the moment is tipping point.

Maybe that's why George W. Bush's vacation bike rides suddenly seem so dangerous.

For Bush, the world has been increasingly unsteady ever since he went to Crawford and Cindy Sheehan, the grieving mom, followed him there.

It's not about the bike, of course. It's not exactly about Cindy Sheehan, either.

She went to Crawford to demand to see Bush so she could ask him to explain why her son had to die. And her critics wonder why she didn't ask the question when she met with the president last year, soon after Casey was killed.

It's that question that goes directly to answering why Sheehan is having such impact.

Look at to the polls, where Bush's numbers on Iraq - as Frank Rich noted in The New York Times - are strikingly similar to Lyndon Johnson's 1968 numbers on Vietnam.

A Newsweek poll puts it at 34 percent. That's when people start to wonder about tipping points. That's when someone like Cindy Sheehan comes along and the narrative turns.

If Sheehan had shown up in Crawford a year ago, we would have shaken our heads at the cost a mother has to pay. And then moved on to the next story.

A year ago, there wouldn't be this kind of standoff.

This year, at this time, as the war goes wrong, more Americans are wondering about the cost that a nation has to pay. And the question that Sheehan asks is the question that won't go away.

That's why there were rallies across America, and across Colorado, Wednesday night.

They were expecting something like a thousand people at the Civic Center for a vigil that Sheehan inspired. Crowd estimates are notoriously unreliable, but it definitely was a crowd.

There were candles. There were signs. There were speeches. There were sing-alongs. There was a guy with a sandwich-board-type sign saying, on both sides, "I'm Embarrassed. I'm Ashamed. I'm Republican."

And there, among the organizers, was a mother whose son had just joined the Marines - a conflict within a conflict.

"It's time to hear a mother's pleas," Pamela Osborne told the crowd.

Osborne has worked for years with MoveOn.org and was shocked when her son, Daniel Bentley, a high school student now living in Texas, told her he had enlisted.

"I felt disbelief, anger, sadness, terrible sadness," she said. "I love my son, my only son. I want to honor him - honor what he's doing.

"But my first reaction was, 'Are you crazy?' "

Now Osborne worries about the cost she might have to pay someday.

As she spoke to me, a man across the lawn was holding a sign saying "We're all Cindy Sheehan."

Sheehan arrived in Crawford as the American death toll in Iraq was climbing over 1,800, as bombs kill Iraqi civilians almost daily, as the news of the 7/7 bombings in London still makes headlines.

We can argue about whether Iraq was the right war to fight in the right place. Most people at the peace vigils didn't need Cindy Sheehan to know which side of that argument to take.

But it doesn't answer the question of what happens next. Bush says the troops will leave Iraq when it's possible to leave Iraq. And, meanwhile, the poll numbers keep dropping.

Sheehan arrived in Crawford as the Iraqis struggle to write a draft of a constitution while, back at home, fewer people are asking anymore about why the media are covering up the good news out of Iraq.

What you get, instead, is uncertainty here and uncertainty there.

Whether it's the Kurds who explain why they want it written into the constitution that they can secede. Or whether it's the Shiites who are asking for a greater role for clergy in the southern part of Iraq. Or whether it's the Sunnis who have to be convinced to join at all - at least the ones who aren't involved in the insurgency.

And then there's the troubling news that the Iranians seem so happy about it all.

A tipping point?

I don't know.

I know that at the vigil I ran into Bill Vickers, an 82-year-old World War II vet, a Marine who fought in the Pacific. He calls himself an arch-conservative who voted for Bush twice and who is now a critic of the war.

"This is not a war any rational person could support," Vickers said. "Back in World War II, we died for a reason. This war has no reason and no graceful way to end."

He said it was his first anti-war rally - but won't be his last.

But for many there, it wasn't about the course of the war - it was the cost.

I met Becky Alfrey, a mother, who is holding back tears and her daughter Kim, who tells of a friend who was in the Marines, who went to elementary school with her, who went to high school with her, who died in a burn unit after being wounded in his second tour in Iraq.

Kim says she was apathetic about the war - until then.

"It doesn't really hit home until someone you know dies," she says. "I'm just starting my life. He'll never get that chance."

Her mother nodded in agreement.

You know that Cindy Sheehan would, too.


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